I hope you all had a Very Merry Christmas!
We began the week on Saturday, by driving up to the extreme northeast corner of the mission -and of KwaZuluNatal, and of South Africa! We were headed for the Tembe Elephant Reserve, as the lodge there is (lucky for me) about as close as we could get to the "twig" in Kozi Bay that we were to visit on Sunday. The lodge is very much what you like to envision for an African holiday: open, thatched roof bomas, staff dressed in safari clothes or traditional dress, and the "rooms" were part tent and part cabin, each down a little trail by itself. That whole area was once under the Indian Ocean, so it is all built on sand, and only 4x4s are allowed in the park, since the sand roads get deeper and deeper and harder to negotiate until it rains and they pack down a bit.
We went on 3 game drives, and saw elephants (up close and personal!), giraffe, kudus, wildebeests, impala, nyalas, red duikers, gray duikers, vervet monkeys, warthogs, zebras, and my personal favorite for this trip, dung beetles. We also had impala steaks for dinner one night (very good). It's strange to go game viewing and then eat what you just took pictures of, but my official rule is "I don't eat anything I've had as a pet". That pretty well covers me for China (dog and cat), France (horse) and Peru (guinea pig). And insects & worms are just not on any list, anywhere.
Sunday morning we drove out to Kozi Bay for Church. Iris is a member from the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) where the Church is growing very rapidly. He has a tailor shop in a rented space in a marketplace, and he holds Church there. There are 10 or 12 members, including 3 Melchizedek priesthood holders. They generally have 15 to 40(!) in attendance. Most of the members had gone to their rural areas for the holidays (like the rest of the country) so it was a small group, but it was fun to be there. He hangs up sheets over the shelves of fabric, to make it less "commercial", and they use a cd player when they sing hymns. Steve asked him to see if we can rent a space at the library for their meetings - the group is almost big enough to be a real branch.
Monday we drove down to Richard's Bay for the interviews and skills training on Tuesday. The Assistants, Elder Schlenker and Elder Schwarting (try saying that fast!) met us there. After the interviews we drove to Swaziland, for interviews and a training on the 24th. While the "men" were all busy, I checked out shopping opportunities for the couples seminar in February. (SOMEbody's got to do the hard stuff!) It is very beautiful and green and flowery in Swazi this time of year, but their tourist business is slow this year, just like everywhere, so sometimes I was the only potential buyer at a market, which kind of puts the pressure on!
We took the Swazi zone to lunch at the best Chinese restaurant in the mission, and then just crashed for the afternoon: it's been a busy month! Our Christmas Eve dinner was on the terrace of the Mantenga Lodge, with VERY loud frogs entertaining us from a nearby pond. Christmas morning we drove home so we could Skype the family in Parma, where the whole crowd descended on Grandma and Marilyn for Christmas, and Heather's wedding yesterday. I was sorry to miss it all - especially the inches and inches of snow! Every year I wished for a white Christmas, and this sounds like the best one ever!
Friday we were back on the road to Newcastle & Ladysmith, for more interviews and training, then home again on Saturday. This week Steve is interviewing in the Durban area, so I'll work on the house and projects, one of which is Primary resource materials for the districts. (In January we're doing district leadership training in all three districts.)
If any Relief Society or Young Women leaders are looking for service projects, we are making some upholstery-fabric bags for Primary leaders to bring their manuals and lesson materials to Church. Most of these sisters walk a long way to and from Church, and we thought that when they are called, if the branch president could hand them a bag with their materials, it would be really helpful (and fun!). Sister Klingler in Newcastle is our sewing whiz, and can give you the plan for the very simple bag - firstname.lastname@example.org Just tell her I sent you...
I hope you all have a very happy and safe New Year! It's very quiet (and clean, and peaceful...) around here without Hunter and Morgan. They're having a great time seeing their friends and family, so I hope they get back on the plane next week!
Love you all!
Mom/Grandma/Susan/Sue/Sister President Mann/Wildlife photographer